Pie charts are overrated

Quoting Seth’s Blog: How to make graphs that work:

Pie charts are spectacularly overrated. If you want to show me that four out of five dentists prefer Trident and that we need to target the fifth one, show me a picture of 5 dentists, but make one of them stand out. I’ll remember that.

Unless, of course, all you want to do is give a sense of all different percentages.


3 thoughts on “Pie charts are overrated”

  1. So Godin flies in the face of everything that Edward Tufte has been saying for 30 years about the dangers of cutesy images in graphs. (Tufte calls them “ducks.”) It’s not that Tufte is a humorless snob, it’s that unnecessary graphical flourishes so frequently lead to misrepresentation and misinterpretation of the data.

    Godin’s own example is a case in point: I have no idea what he’s saying with his picture of five smiling models, four in grayscale and one in sepia.

    Interestingly, though, Seth and Tufte agree that the graphics coming out of standard tools are terrible.

    It’s possible that Godin and Tufte have different goals. Tufte believes in graphics as a cognitive tool: graphs should help us think about numerical data, individually and together. If all Godin wants to do is sell toothpaste, and is willing to use potentially misleading graphics as visual jingles, then his advice is right on.

  2. I agree with Tufte about not using cutesy images in graphs but I also begin to believe that most pie charts have the goal of making one of the slices stand out in some way.

    If that’s the case, I have to agree with Godin, and prefer to show you not a pie chart but instead a visual representation of what I want to transmit.

  3. I agree that pie charts are weak. Plus, I wonder if anyone’s done studies of the reliability of perception of wedge areas? I know that Tufte has demonstrated all kinds of misperception of other 2D shapes to represent scalar quantities.

    A one-dimensional representation is still the safest way to convey a one-dimensional quantity.

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